Sample Expository Essay: Letter from Birmingham Jail

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The history of the United States of America has witnessed many great and outstanding people, who have shaped the current state of political, economic and social issues. Martin Luther King, Jr. will be remembered as one of the greatest speakers and writers of the twentieth century, who has strongly influenced the fate and heritage of black Americans in our country. A great combination of passion and logic, theory and force to serve the community has made this person and his works truly historical. “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is one of his most famous works, where Martin Luther King, Jr. responds to a public criticism made by a group of white clergymen at his pro-black organization’s non-violent demonstrations aimed to eliminate racial injustice and prejudice among black people in Birmingham. In the first place King’s response was aimed to defend the non-violent actions performed by his organization, but “Letter from Birmingham Jail” appeared to be also an appeal to both black and white American society, the political, social and religious community and entire humanity to discourage segregation and to encourage equality and solidarity among all American citizens.

In his letter King addresses the American society as a whole, as well as religious and political community in particular. There are three important groups, however, which appear to be of special attention in King’s letter: the black society, the white political community and the white religious community. This is mainly because all major segregation conflicts appear between these three groups and are being proliferated by last two. Therefore, much of the arguments presented in the letter are pointed to these two groups, as well as to his fellow black Americans.

The main idea of King’s message in the Birmingham letter is that racial injustice and segregation of the black Americans is being constantly encouraged by the white American society and by the early mentioned powerful religious and political communities in particular. Such ideas is being discusses all throughout the letter with the valid and accurate arguments to support his thesis.

Among the major issues being addressed and confronted in the “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, such as injustice, racial prejudice and inequality happening in the American society, King separately emphasizes the problem of violence that has occurred in Birmingham. In his arguments King uses both social, political and moral references and logic in order to make them truly agreeable and valid. Thus, in response to his letter King seems to expect the agreement and appeal to abolish segregation and stop the injustices being imposed on his fellow black Americans. Meanwhile, from his black fellowmen King expects solidarity and unity, which he perceives as an essential means to achieve their goal. “Letter from Birmingham Jail” therefore is a discussion of the civil rights movement, which struggles to eliminate the white man’s resistance and ignorance.


  1. Martin Luther, Jr King. (August 1, 1994) Letter from the Birmingham Jail.
  2. Martin Luther King Jr., Peter Holloran, Clayborne Carson. (January 1, 2000) A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Warner Books.

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